Garden Party

Guerrilla planters sow seeds of subversion in the dark

Rating: NNNNN

Pretty spring evenings make me long for a backyard — a balcony, even. I’m lucky. I have a place to live. Outdoors would quickly lose its allure if I were on the street. But a little lavender/beer garden would be sweet.Communing with nature is one thing. Communing with people is not high on this misanthrope’s very short list of priorities. Nevertheless, I decide to attend the Sunday-night meeting of the Guerrilla Gardeners.

To prepare, I pass by Trinity-Bellwoods Park on Saturday. A woman is selling heritage plants and seeds. I choose a seed envelope because I like the name: Hairy Willow Herb.

To further get in the mood, on Sunday I visit the Genetically Modified Organism-Free picnic in Grange Park. Unaccustomed to daytiming, I completely miss the array of reportedly delicious cost-free organic chow. I do find a few crackers smeared with hemp paste, and I can buy more hemp transformed into ice cream if I want. David Suzuki, a sponsor here, is long gone. Women Ah Run Tings are grooving onstage.

Drawn like a goth to the shade, I join the crowd gathered around the bearded lad in a very picturesque skirt. Behind him is a huge, intricately illustrated banner. Over a megaphone, he’s explaining this complex web of art illustrating the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. I learn another reason to maintain my total abstinence from computers: the massive amount of water required in the manufacture of microchips.

This presentation, along with several other equally impressive panels of enlightenment, comes from the Beehive Design Collective in Maine. The pictured heroes in the fight against the powers destroying, stealing and patenting life on earth are the ants.

The only ones who don’t look to be enjoying themselves are the few cops in the park. And, of course, I can’t stand being around people for too long. I’m thinking things that would sound irrational to anyone but a lifelong loner. Like, why do people, however radical they supposedly are, go around submerging their individuality in The Couple? (Letters to the editor pour in.)

I head to Queen’s Park to Muhtadi’s Drumfest for further inspiration, where it just gets worse. Yeah, great drums, but families — couples breeding more consumers. I watch some little girls digging and sticking branches in the ground, and it seems the urge to plant must be inborn. But so, too, apparently, is the urge to wreck, which, uncurbed, is killing the world and right here is subjecting tree boughs to stripping and stress.

Eight o’clock, and I’m the only one waiting at the Bathurst streetcar loop, the supposed meeting place of the Guerrilla Gardeners. I see one fellow, but I think this might be his home. After half an hour of watching chimney swifts, airplanes and seagulls, I ask if he’s here for the gardening. He counters with his own herbacious inquiry: “You smoke weed?” Let’s see, if we plant it tonight….

Eventually, Gary shows up with plants and spades. Things now seem to be starting at 9. Two pleasant women wait a while and decide to come back next week. By 9:15 there are two more women, four of us. Small is fine by me. Twenty people can get embroiled in turf wars — literally in this case — pretty fast.

The polite ritual of passing the spade marks the formal introductions. The definition of guerrilla gardening is, to quote a handout, “When you take it upon it upon yourself to plant a corner of the city that is unlovely and unloved without waiting for permission from the powers that be.’

Obviously, guerrilla gardening can be practised alone. Going in a group fulfills the human need for gregariousness and gossip and means you can make somebody else do the digging. It is also helpful in drawing attention to clandestine activity.

Pre-scouting is useful, and, in the case of a group, consensus must be reached. I’m told that the years-and-years-empty Parisian Laundry on Bathurst north of Queen was nixed as a site due to sensitive lichens or something. Last year I chatted with a local who was working a corner of it. A previous guerrilla planting of flowers around an advertising kiosk in a parking lot on Queen has already been torn up, but their seeds remain in the soil.

We mosey down to the Executive Motor Inn, where perfectly topsoiled beds are lying fallow. Gary points out the stump of a wee tree. Somebody in the hotel has said there are no plans to fill the plots. Maybe they’ll just smother them in rock chips like they did those on the side. Rather than waste a planting, why not phone the manager and offer to beautify the place? My suggestion to the hoteliers would be to restore the great cave bar they had. That’s not guerrilla!

Gary suggests we go down Portland behind the big, beautiful hall that’s slated for demolition. Melanie and I are digging in the dandelions thriving under the glow of another ad pillar when we realize — hey, there’s already stuff here! We spread a few gypsophila white filler flowers. Gary sinks a raspberry cane nearby. Around the corner we sow morning glories along a fence.

The park down here is the first out of five I’ve checked this weekend that has a functioning water fountain. Is the drying up of the downtown parks a deliberate attempt to deter residency, or just a convenient side effect of amalgamated Toronto?

Presumably, the Guerrilla Gardening Group will need a new meeting spot once this area has been seeded. I’m sure you’ll find it on your computer. Or go out alone if you dare. Just you and some sunflower seeds. Rats love them. And some catnip, for balance.

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